The transition processes and the launch of democratization efforts created conditions for enhanced equality and freedom for women. However, despite changes and improvements as a result of the rapid social and economic development of the country, gender issues and women rights still remain weak. Women continue to be a vulnerable group in the Albanian society. Due to bias, conservatism and deeply rooted societal traditions, women’s advancement in career is difficult. They occupy very few positions of leadership and generally have a low participation rate in policy and decision making. The aggressivity of males in politics and the rudeness that prevails especially in pre-election periods compels women to stay out of politics. During the first years of transition they fell victim to trafficking and prostitution. Many civil society organizations are devoted to reducing trafficking and prostitution while governmental efforts remain limited and inefficient.
In these circumstances, OSFA launched the design and implementation of a flexible strategy to address the wide range problems faced by women and girls in Albania in accordance with the status of gender affairs. The OSFA Women’s Program started operations in the year 1994. In the first three years, funding was concentrated in direct objectives related to the creation and strengthening the capacities of civil society organizations whose mission was tied to gender issues; promotion of women participation in politics; women health and well being and increase of public awareness about women rights and gender issues. Subsequently, efforts came to be concentrated on the elimination of domestic violence; support to women in need, struggle against trafficking and prostitution, rehabilitation of former prostitutes and violated women, and increase of women educational levels. At this juncture, attention was paid to extending the Programs’ geographical coverage. Starting from the year 2005, the OSFA strategic goal was the strengthening of women competences to increase their involvement in the social life. The focus of the Program was rested on four main pillars; domestic violence; women in leadership, economic empowerment of women and gender balance. However, the indicators of OSFA success are mostly evident in the establishment and operation of a number of centers dedicated to gender issues. These centers have lately become self sustainable both from the point of view of financial and human resources which enhances the opportunities to successfully implement their mission.
The Association “Reflexione”
Shelter for Violated Women in Durres
Independent Forum of Albanian Women
“Useful to Albanian Women” Association
Union of “Gender and Development”
Women Counseling Center
The Women’s Center was established in 1995 with the direct participation of the Association of Reflexione which operates in Albania and Kosova. In 2004 its name was changed to “Center of Gender Alliance for Development”. The center employs staff with high level qualifications in the field of gender as well as specialized trainers in respective areas. Given these strengths, the Center has been successful and capable to secure funding for its activity and civic engagement. The Center mission is to contribute to achieving gender balance through awareness building, study and research, advocacy, lobbying and training activities. The Center has greatly assisted the strengthening of capacities of women organizations in aspects related to gender issues and women empowerment. It has created a Center for Information and Documentation on Gender Issues which has scanned about 11 000 media articles through monitoring projects, an extensive book collection, and journals in Albanian and English languages. The center also boasts of resources on Albanian NGO-s involved in gender issues, gender statistics, etc. The Center encourages and promotes the cooperation of women associations and has taken the initiative of establishing networks and partnerships. In addition, the Center has an extensive publishing activity through which it offers manuals, studies, research and translated materials dedicated to gender issues.
The Association “Reflexione”
Reflexione was established in 1992. Although its seat is in Tirana, the association covers the entire territory of the country based on projects. The mission of the Association is to protect women’s rights and to fight against women discrimination of all types and forms. Domestic violence has continuously been the focus of the Association. Its projects are designed to promote women’s participation in the social, political and economic life of the country as well as to increase women participation in policy and decision making. Special attention is also devoted to health and wellbeing of women in which areas the center is very active through initiatives which address relevant laws and legal issues. Thanks to reflexione’s efforts, it has been possible to enhance opportunities for women in the field of employment, self employment, training, economic empowerment, etc. This is particularly true in the towns of Tirana, Shkodra and Pogradec where the Association set up Centers for Women Employment. Presently, these centers have come to be sustainable points of reference with regard to supplying social services for women in economic hardship and other needs. To broaden the range of civil society organizations involved in women issues, OSFA followed a very successful strategy of spinning off some of its projects and assisting them to become fully fledged and sustainable organizations. In this contest, mention can be made of the Women’s Center, The Women and Girls’ Counseling Center, and the Shelter for Violated Women. Reflexione has won a reputation worldwide as a structure dedicated to long term strategies to ensure women’s integration into the labor market as a way to achieving women empowerment both economically and socially.
Shelter for Violated Women
The shelter was established in the year 1998. Its staff is trained to deal with gender issues and is the bearer of high level knowledge and expertise related to gender problems and perspectives. The Center carries out its activity away from the scrutiny of the broad public and its premises are destined to be used by women in need. It assists and supports women and girls who have fallen victim to gender violence (physical, emotional, sexual, economic and otherwise) within and without home. It also provides care and support for children of abused mothers who in most cases suffer traumas created by violent events experienced both directly and indirectly. The abused women, girls and children receive shelter, emotional support and counseling, referral to qualified professional help both in terms of services and training for re-integration. The Center is also focused on building awareness and knowledge of the victims about their rights, human values and their personal capacities to live decent and independent lives. The Shelter has created a network dedicated to identification of cases of violence and abuse. In addition, the Shelter has been very resourceful in providing training and expertise to other institutions involved in providing similar services in Albania, Kosova, Macedonia and Montenegro. Through the services of the shelter, it has been possible to contribute to improving the social, economic and legal situation of women through lobbying and advocacy activities. The center has successfully utilized electronic and written media to achieve its aims. It has also mounted very successful awareness campaigns at the national, regional and international level.
Independent Forum of Albanian Women
The Independent Forum of Albanian Women was established in 1991 and has countrywide coverage. The Forum provides support to the social and economic advancement of Albanian women, promotes women rights, encourages their participation in policy and decision making both at the central and local level and struggles to ensure the re-integration of women who fall victim to abuse, violence and poverty. Backstopped by various lobbying and advocacy work, the Forum has contributed to passing and/or amending legislation related to gender issues and problems. In addition, the gender dimension of various governmental policies and strategies has been improved and strengthened. Thanks to its efforts a number of service and counseling centers for women and girls have been established in Berat, Saranda, Tirana, Elbasan, Peshkopia and Shkodra. These centers not only provide services and counseling, but they also advocate for enhanced health care, better employment conditions for women, etc. The Forum has established three social businesses which employ 70 women in Vlora, Tirana and Durres. In addition, it has assisted the creation of three green houses in the rural part of Tirana and Fieri. Also, the Forum runs a publishing center which produces books, research and other materials relating to gender issues. Thanks to the Forum’s involvement, active participation of women has been strengthened and so has their involvement in regional women’s networks dedicated to gender issues.
“Useful to Albanian Women” Association
Useful to Albanian women was created in 1993 and has national coverage. It is very active in protecting and upholding women and children rights; promotes governmental strategies and policies dedicated to improving women status in society, provides services and support to vulnerable women, etc. Thanks to the involvement of the Association, women and girls have been encouraged to stand up for their rights and advocacy and lobbying campaigns have been mounted to enhance their role and contribution in society and decision making. The Association has provided counseling and services for abused and violated women, as well as for unemployed and helpless women, for the purpose of contributing to their social, economic and psychological integration in society. Thus, the Association has established the Women’s Club and a Training Center which offers computer and other courses. In addition, the Association has mounted very successful awareness campaigns in the areas where trafficking and abuse have been the worst. The Association has made its contribution to the creation of lobbying and advocacy capacities in the women civil society organizations which dedicate their work to influencing public policy towards achieving gender balance and respect for women rights.
The Union for Gender and Development
The Union for Gender and Development aims to promote gender balance and equality at all levels. In the course of its activity, it has collected extensive experience in the development of capacities both in the civil society organizations and the public organizations with respect to gender equality and the enhancement of the role of women in the social, economic and political development of the country. In addition, the Union has contributed in the various election campaigns, in particular those following the year 2000, to increase women representation rates in the elected bodies both at the central and local level. Through training programs for the leadership of the political parties, it has been possible to strengthen women participation in politics and the parliament. In addition, the statutes of the parties were improved to sanction women participation in the parties’ leading bodies. Union work, alongside the work of other organizations, has led to a more active participation of women in regional networks dedicated to gender balance and gender equality.
Women Counseling Center
The Center laid the foundations of its operations in the year 2001 and is operational in Tirana, Pogradec, Berat and Shkodra. The center is an active participant in the fight against women. It is also heavily involved in the provision of assistance to violence and abuse victims as well as in conflict resolution. The center offers on line and face to face counseling from Monday to Friday. As a result, a number of women and girls have received counseling. The Center also engages in awareness campaigns in the combat against violence through posters, TV spots, discussions, round tables, etc. The Center is in the process of establishing an information and public awareness facility on gender issues as well as family planning and other care issues confronting youth and women. The Center is an active member of the network organizations committed to the fight against domestic violence, trafficking and women abuse.